This was the first year ever for the Mudcat Marathon. I came across this race while searching for a spring marathon. I was a bit tired of big city road races and this race looked very appealing to me. It takes place in Haldimand County and is located in the town of Dunnville. Dunnville is located at the delta of the Grand River, along the shores of Lake Erie. I must admit, prior to this weekend, I had never been to Dunnville before. We often go to Port Dover for a nice Perch dinner, or to Niagara, but have never really ventured much in between. I am very familiar with the Grand River, having grown up near Cambridge and my dad even used to sit on the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). So I finally took the plunge and registered .. less than a week before the race. I had been following along with updates on their Facebook page and Race Director Sheryl was always quick to answer any questions I posted.
Based on lessons learned from previous marathons, I actually printed out a race map to carry with me. I even went as far as creating my own turn-by-turn directions. This lesson is based on the fact that at many marathons, you can’t count on the route markers, water stations etc.. to still be there if you are one of the lucky ones at the back of the pack. As it turned out, this was not an issue as all major decision point along the route were well-marked and even manned by smiling and friendly volunteers.
Race Expo and Pasta Dinner
We were fortunate enough to be able to take the afternoon off on Friday, so we made the drive to Dunnville and attended the race expo and pasta dinner. Since I was so late registering for the race, we weren’t able to get accommodations in Dunnville so we ended up staying at the Best Western in Welland (it was only about 30 minutes away). The race expo was nice and the kit pickup was efficient. I even bought a race hat as a souvenir.
The pasta dinner was amazing. They had spaghetti with sauce, salad, rolls and pies for dessert. This was a great way to kick off the weekend. After the pasta dinner, we took a drive and checked out the starting point for the race at Knight’s Beach Resort.
It was an early start on Saturday. We had to get up at about 4:15 in order to get ready and leave for Dunnville at 5am. In the end we got off to a bit of a late start and didn’t leave until closer to 5:30. Fortunately, the rain showers that had been predicted all week held off and it had the looks of a great day. It was about 10 deg C in the morning and reached about 16 or so in the afternoon. We arrived at the Lions Park at about 6am and I boarded the shuttle bus to Knight’s Beach.
Shuttle bus to Knight’s Beach
They had many departure times to the start
After getting dropped off at Knight’s beach it was a short wait until race start. They had us waiting inside the restaurant and games room. It was a nice, comfortable place to stage the race start and there were even nice indoor washrooms. At the race briefing, RD Sheryl mentioned that she had envisioned having 50 people at this inaugural marathon, but in reality it looked closer to 150. The actual race start began with a simple countdown from ten to one and then we were off.
The first 4 km of the course was a tour along the Lake Erie shoreline. It was a flat, winding road past some pretty cottages. I noticed that some of the homes were starting to adorn themselves for Canada’s birthday celebration and I was impressed by a cute fieldstone house with a massive Canada 150 banner.
After turning north, we spent some time cruising along some rural roads. Some were paved, but most were gravel and although they had the access points along the route blocked off, there was little traffic at 7am anyways. Along Olivet Road we ran past Mt. Olivet United Church where there was an amazing aroma from the lilacs in full bloom. There were water stations every three kilometers, where we were greeted by happy, smiling volunteers in blue t-shirts. Some of the other interesting sites along the first leg of the race was a huge solar farm. It was filled with massive panels pointing up at the sky. In contrast, we were also in the shadow of an array of wind turbines. Thankfully it was a calm morning and the blades were stationary.
At around 14km, we turned up River Road and got to see our first glimpses of the Grand River. There were lots of rolling hills along this part of the route and this is where I saw the first bit of traffic since the start. I might have seen about half a dozen cars along River Road, but they stayed well clear of the runners. At around 17.5 km, I was greeted by Diane waving at the side of the road. I don’t know how she managed, but she navigated by herself all over Haldimand County to follow me along during the race. This was no small feat since she had to find parallel routes to travel since the race course was technically closed to traffic. Then there was the Grand River itself, where the only places to cross were near the finish in Dunnville and at the halfway point in Cayuga.
Diane stops at Timmies to plan her driving route
Diane gets to see her runner for the first time
Once we reached Cayuga, we crossed the bridge over the Grand River and headed back down the other side to the finish in Dunnville. In my head I had the idea that the turn in Cayuga marked the beginning of the final home stretch. I suppose this is technically true, but that final stretch along County 17 and Highway 3 was 21 km long. Diane met me a second time in Cayuga and she ran along with me for a few kilometers before heading back to the car. At every stop along the way she had a chance to chat with the volunteers and she was impressed by how warm and friendly everyone was.
Finally made it to Cayuga!
Made it to the half way mark and time for walk break
Along the way between Cayuga and Dunnville we got to meet up with some crazy people. Diane and I got passed by a couple of ladies and the one instantly took a liking to Diane since they were both similar in stature (she may have even been shorter than Diane). They seemed to be part of some running group from Stony Creek and they had matching t-shirts and even a support crew at the side of the road that gave us some oranges and apples. Some while later I also got passed by Joe from the Stoney Creek group. He had his own cheering section as well as a minivan with his daughter and grandkids would pop up from time to time. Joe asked the question “… why the hell are we doing this?” My only answer was “… because of how great it will feel after we have finished this damn race”. At that point Joe had a simple goal which was to get to the finish and find a place to sit down. I must admit that I too contemplated sitting down for a break a few times, but I knew that if I did I would never be able to get up again. We did have some comic relief when we passed by a mailbox and I pointed out the family name ‘Barnfart’ ….. it doesn’t seem quite as funny now as it did 30 km into a marathon. At around 31 km I was met by Diane again and this time she handed my a bottle of Coke. By that point, it was nice to get some sugar in me. I drank about half of it between 31 km and 35 km, then put it away. When I pulled it out again at 38 km, the rest of the Coke had gone flat, but it was a godsend at that point because I am not sure my stomach could have handled the carbonation. The other trick I played on myself was that it was really a 40 km race. I knew that about 40 – 41km , I would see the giant ‘Muddy the Mudcat’ statue and the run to the finish at 42.2 km would be about the same as I would have to walk to get back to the car anyways. Diane met me at around 40 km and she ran me in to the finish.
I was not hallucinating … there really was a giant catfish.
After crossing the finish line I was given my medal and got a great big hug from RD Sheryl. I am surprised she wanted to touch me at that point because I was all sweaty and salt-stained, but it sure felt great.
Earned this medal!
Got to pose with my personal race crew.
After getting the medal, my first question was ‘where do I go to use this complimentary drink ticket affixed to the bottom of my race bib?’ The first volunteer didn’t know, but she sent me over the gentleman handing out the post-race goodie bags. He was wearing an Optimist Club shirt an coincidentally, the drinks were being served just down the street (within sight) at the local Optimist Club. This was a big deal to me since from about 30 km onward, all I could think about was the nice, cold beer I was going to have after I finished the race. We just snuck in under the wire because when we got to the Optimist Club, they were already cleaning the place up and loading the remaining cases of beer into the back of a van. Thankfully, they popped one open for me and let us sit down inside the hall for a while to relax.
One of the best-tasting beers ever
The inaugural Mudcat Marathon was an amazing race experience. On a personal note, I was testing the theory that it is better to enter a marathon slightly under-trained, yet structurally sound versus being over-trained. Thus did prove to be true since my longest run in training was Around the Bay at 30 km and since then I have been undergoing some physiotherapy to deal with some hip and back issues. I have now discovered the joys of a lacrosse ball and a foam roller.
Other than that, I can truly say that it was amazing to see Race Director Sheryl and the team pull together as a community and to host such an amazing event. I am proud to say that I completed the very first Mudcat Marathon and hope to return again next year.